Review by Trevor Connell
For only the second time the Meetings and Events Australia (MEA) conference has been held offshore. The previous occasion was in Hong Kong in 2000.
In 1999 the Hong Kong Convention Bureau put in a concerted effort to host the conference and this time around the Malaysian Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) put in a similar concerted effort.
There was a lot of grumbling within the industry about the decision to take the conference to Kuala Lumpur. There seemed to be two main complaints. First – we should be supporting Australian venues and promoting them to possible overseas delegates. Secondly – government employees could not get their employers to pay for a trip to an overseas conference. Cost was also seen as a deterrent.
OK, the second reason is legitimate. Government department policies are short sighted. Obviously you have to be a politician to qualify for overseas travel.
However, regarding the first – I spoke to quite a number of delegates from Malaysia and Singapore in particular, who having experienced a MEA conference for the first time are very keen to attend again. They were particularly impressed by a couple of things – the educational element that was packaged especially for them in the lead up to the conference; the friendliness and openness of the Australians and the content of the conference itself.
A number of these delegates had visited Australia before – well Melbourne anyway – for AIME. As MEAKL2014 was timed to facilitate Australian delegates who were continuing on to IMEX in Frankfurt, maybe MEA could consider timing future conferences so that delegates from SE Asia could easily stay on after AIME to attend the conference.
As to cost – this trip cost me less than my Darwin airfares and accommodation last year and was certainly cheaper than if the conference had been held in another remote Australian location such as Perth or Cairns.
Yes there was a small downside – the unfortunate love affair the Malaysians have with air conditioning! With the outside temperature around 33 deg each day for some reason the Malaysians set their aircon to Arctic temperatures – this included the convention centre. The result – I, and others I know of, have returned with severe colds.
So what was on offer?
First the KL experience. I took the opportunity to fly in a couple of days before the conference commenced and just went walking around KL. The city has many contrasts – culturally and architecturally – all of which delight the visitor who is prepared to explore.
The taxies (teksi in Malay) are cheap and plentiful, the train network even cheaper and just as plentiful. English is widely spoken and most signage is in Malay and English. And the city feels safe, indeed one never seems to far from a police or security officer and security cameras are everywhere. And the food is varied, cheap and fabulous.
The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is magnificent (and run by ex-pat Australians) with staff who are not only plentiful but incredibly keen to assist.
The food was varied, sumptuous and somewhat overwhelming – we broke for morning tea and … had lunch, then broke for lunch and had … lunch, then for afternoon tea – lunch again?
Just a couple of odd things – the choice of lighting in some of the meeting rooms was strange, very yellow. And the aircon set to Arctic!
Technical Production – I have been advocating for some time for the conference to have a Technical Producer as the Conference Manager has more than enough to do. As a conference for conference organisers this conference should be at the forefront of conference presentation and essential to that is flawless technical production – and that is what Rob Vass provided along with the Haycom team working in with the KLCC tech crew.
The conference content – I was surprised that there was not more focus on the ASEAN region. There was one session on doing business in Asia and an excellent hypothetical put together by Ian Stuart that looked at competing bids for a pharma conference from Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak. This session was well worth while and examined the Asian issues in some depth.
Conference Facilitator Nigel Collin introduced a concept he picked up at the international ISES conference last year. Rather than having to choose a breakout session based on the blurb in the conference program each of the speakers were give a 10 min spot called “Thought Starters” to introduce/sell their presentation, then the delegates could go off to the “Deep Dive” session of their choice with a fair knowledge of what to expect.
The outstanding session for me was presented by Eric de Groot of Mindmeeting. Eric has a background in theatre and uses that experience to redesign meetings. I really look forward to a conference that combines the Thought Starter idea with the principles of Mind Meetings.
MEA 2015 – MEA Chairman Simon Baggs announced that the location for the next MEA conference… will be announced shortly. I understand that the venue has been chosen but as contracts have not been signed yet the announcement could not be made at this stage. But when it is announced the location for 2016 will also be announced and future announcements will be made two years in advance. An excellent move!
And the next overseas conference – due to the flack received over the choice for this year I suspect that may be some time off. Pity really because I think a lot was achieved in fostering relations with our Asian neighbours. The real proof of that will come next year when we see how many of them make the effort to join us in… TBA.
If you were at MEA KL 2014 please share your views on the conference – and if you weren’t then your views on why not are also valuable.
I produced a slideshow to close the conference – you might enjoy that as well.